As most of us already know, the English language has one of the most complicated and difficult alphabetic codes in the world.
Spanish has a mainly transparent code, which means that what you see is generally what you get. This means that reading and writing in Spanish is fairly easy to teach and learn. By contrast, English is a highly opaque language, which means that it does not offer an obvious reading and writing system and is therefore difficult to both teach and learn.
Many educators are generally familiar with or are using some sort of reading and writing scheme either at home or at school, which is also probably based on a phonics programme, of which there are many. However, the steps we take before officially beginning to read and write should be considered as important as formal instruction on reading and writing.
But, can this be done with very young children who have a limited knowledge of their second language? Of course!
As Virginie Raguenaud states in her book Bilingual by Choice:
One of the most influential factors in our children’s bilingual development is how much language they hear every day.
Exposure to a second language is fundamental to be able to learn it and maybe more importantly, understand it. When we speak and interact with our children, we are constantly submitting them to the sounds that are specific to that language.
17 Years ago, I sat down for the first time with a group of 24 five-year-old Spanish children with nothing but a Peter Rabbit story book. I did not speak Spanish and had zero experience in a classroom with second language leaners. It was terrifying and needless to say, the session did not go particularly well. However, what I did learn that day is that:
- Through a story I had a means of communication with my students.
- They loved being read to and yes, I was reading to them in English!
Reading stories aloud to young leaners gives them the opportunity to hear and learn a colourful variety of words that they may not have exposure to in everyday ESL-classroom settings. It can help reinforce pronunciation and intonation skills and it is a natural and essential tool for introducing vocabulary, necessary for both language acquisition and comprehension. If a child never hears certain words then how will she be expected to understand, use and later read and write those words?
Children’s literature also offers a massive range of topics useful in any ESL-setting. A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson covers farm vocabulary and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle can be used to introduce or revise the days of the week, life cycles, size, colours and food. Pictures can be used to help with comprehension and role-play is a way of bringing the stories to life and embedding new concepts and knowledge.
And finally, stories help to bring language learning to life, inspire creativity and above all they are fun.
Thanks to Beki Wilson for contributing to Oxford Magazine
You can visit her website here.